Beyond the Edge of Darkness
See Also The Edge of Darkness
Beyond the Edge of Darkness - Part 1
Slade frantically punched control after control, and with a sudden roar, the small shuttle leapt away at speed. He sighed as he felt the high acceleration which meant he was putting distance betwen him and the soon to explode asteroid base. A sudden bright light flared from behind, and he closed his eyes instinctively - the light continued, a ghostly light, searing through him
It faded, and Slade opened his own eyes, to a slowly growing darkness. "Oh, no." He said as his vision faded to blackness.
"Computer, activate autopilot." He said.
"Autopilot active, input destination." Came the mechanical reply.
"Take me to the shipyards, computer. Maximum speed." Slade ordered.
Six hours later, the shuttle's engines suddenly cut off. Slade, who had been dozing was jerked awake by the sudden cessation of motion, and looked around. He was still blind, but he felt the shifting and sideways motion that told him the shuttle was in a tractor beam. He coughed, then continued coughing, hard and harder, bringing up a wetness that left him feeling shaky and weak. He heard the shuttle door open, and looked around, still blind. "Who's there?" He asked.
"A friend, Lazarus." Came a voice from the darkess that surrounded him. The voice sounded familiar, femenine, and yet very mechanical. It cowed and disturbed him. He shrunk back, then began to cough again. This time, he felt strong hands holding him until the fit passed.
"Lazarus, what have you done to yourself?" The voice gently chided. Slade tried to reply, but was too weak. As he faded from awareness, he heard the voice say "We'll take care of you, Lazarus, and you'll get your revenge."
"What's wrong with her, Doctor?" Walsh growled.
"I have absolutely no idea, Commander." The doctor replied. They looked down at Darkstar's prone body, covered by a thin sheet, which provided decency, but through which the fading glow from her skin still radiated.
"I examined the records of the supertroopers, to better understand her abilities - but this turn of events is not according to her genetic pattern. And her DNA has been altered. On a macroscopic level, her DNA has been rewritten in some manner that did not damage her, but has enabled her to somehow contain photonic energy. As you can see, the excess energy is radiating from her body in visible light. We also did a spectrascopic scan, the radiation is on all levels, from deep radio right up to high x-ray. There's no danger, though. The levels are miniscule. But they are there."
Walsh lifted Darkstar's arm, and turned it over so the wrist was visible, the familiar lines of the blood vessels, tendons and bones were there, he ran his thumb over her wrist, feeling the bone, muscle, and tendon underneath, and looked at the doctor again.
"All right, Doctor. What do you think happened? Give me anything, a wild guess would be better than any information that I currently have."
"According to the details on the Supertrooper DNA, Commander, she has somehow had the protein links totally blasted open. Darkstar now has access to the entire Supertrooper Genome. Not just the portion she would normally access."
"So she can use any or all of the supertrooper abilities?"
"It would appear so. Her ability to radiate enrgy is equivalent to Starchild's. The levitation ability appears to be on the same level as Radox." The Doctor said, referring to his datapad.
At that moment, an aide walked in the door. "Commander, the Board of Leaders has gathered, and are waiting for your report, sir."
Walsh nodded, and looked at the doctor. "Let me know the moment her condition changes; either way, doctor." He turned and walked out the door, the aide scurrying along behind him.
As Walsh got to the main junction corridor that led to the World Leader's Chamber, Owen N'Gata joined him, the hoverbed lightly hissing as he smoothly glided alongside his old friend.
"You don't have to be here, Owen. This is my fight." Walsh said.
"Any decision you make is one I would have made, had I still been able to do so, Joseph. What is Darkstar's condition?" The disembodied brain asked through the mechanical voice synthesizer.
"She's unconscious, and all the medical scans say she's suffered massive DNA alteration. Owen, she has access to the entire Genome."
"Everything? That is of great concern. We never designed any of the individual troopers to have access to more than a small portion of the entire genome."
Walsh shrugged and they came to the huge doors that seperated them from the main chamber. "I don't know, Owen - When she appeared, she asked for my help - what's happened to her?"
The doors swung open, and the roar of the Council of world Leaders washed over the two men. Commander Walsh stepped into the chamber, taking a pad from an aide as he walked to the central podium. Doctor N'Gata gliding to a stop beside him.
"Gentlemen and ladies, honoured allies, may I have your attention, please." He said into the growing silence.
He waited for total silence, then began. "Firstly, let me say that I am relived that all of you could join us here, at the mountain, on such short notice."
"As if we had a choice." One councilman said to his collegue quietly.
"As you know, a large contingent of your fellow councilmen and women is on a fact-finding tour of the inner colonies and is not expected back for some weeks. To that end, being that there are currently insufficient councilpeople available for a consensus vote, I had been given the right to make military decisions in regards to the defense of the League without prior consultation. I excercised that right five hours ago."
A murmur broke out among the assembly, and Walsh waited for it to die down before continuing.
"Eleven hours ago, BETA received word of a fleet having been launched from the remains of the Crown Empire towards Earth. Five hours ago, that fleet arrived and commenced an attack on Earth, and BETA specifically. We have prevailed and destroyed the fleet, but we have suffered heavy losses. BETA Space Station, one of the original constructions of the League, has been totally destroyed, but, I must add, with minimal loss of life."
Whatever else he had to say was drowned out by the roaring crowd as the discussions leapt around the chamber, many races arguing over the events and reconciling them with what each had personally witnessed.
Senator Wheiner stood up, signalling for speech. The chamber quietened as Walsh groaned inwardly. Of all the people who should have been off-world, Wheiner topped the list, but he had stubbornly refused, even if it meant he couldn't oogle Senator Foxx. Leaning forward, the senator pushed the microphone button.
"Commander - what right do you have to make this sort of decision without consulting this august body? You had six hours before the attack to consult the League council - to advise us of what was happening above our heads, and you kept quiet? What if the enemy fleet had been successful? What then?"
Walsh glared at Wheiner. "You, and this entire council would be very much dead, Senator - if that fleet had succeeded in it's attack. As to my rights, Senator Wheiner - they are the same rights with which you can argue with me in this chamber; the League Charter, set down by this body sixteen years ago when you formed BETA and gave it the right to make military decisions without consultation when the League or any member world was directly threatened."
Silence reigned in the chamber for a few moments, and Wheiner sat back down, a bit paler as the news really sank in as to how close they had all come to death. "Uhh, thank you, Commander. Your actions were prudent. The League thanks you." The Andorian Ambassador, Hasbro, said after a while. Walsh nodded, and left the room, trailed by N'Gata and the aides.
Meanwhile, in the quiet darkness of the medical bay, Aurora `Darkstar' Jennisen slept, oblivious to her surroundings, her body slowly recharging via the ambient light energy from the dim illumination; her mind active in REM sleep as it continued to process and diversify the information her senses had received during the time she was awake. She slept, and dreamt.
... "Wake up, Aurora. Come on, it's time to wake up."
Six year old Aurora opened her eyes and looked into the kind face of one of the nurses that had taken care of them while the supertroopers were growing up. She felt stiff all along one side, and looking down, noticed a series of bandages that criss-crossed her left side, from her armpit right down to her kneecap.
She remembered the accident then. That stupid boy, Stingray, with his light-blasts had been showing off again, just because he could burn things by looking at them didn't mean he could boss everybody else around. Brainchild agreed, and he thought up a plan which Aurora had agreed to. When Ray had come around the corner, Aurora had used her blossoming powers to blind him. Then Riker had pummelled the blinded trooper, teaching him a lesson he wouldn't soon forget. But, just as they were leaving, the blindness had worn off, and a hurt and angry Stingray had glared at the first available target, Darkstar. She was thrown through a plaster wall by the blast, and her entire left side had been on fire.
Ten year old Aurora on survival training in the jungle setting around Wolf Den, along with eight year old Gooseman and eleven year old Killbane. Gooseman was new, strange, he looked and acted different to all the other troopers, and the bosses seemed to watch out for him, to pull him out before he really got hurt, while letting the others get hurt more, if necessary. Everyone called him the baby, and Riker liked to call him runt. Aurora liked him, he was nice to her- nice in a friendly sort of way, rather than so he could have her do things with her powers to help him. He just wanted to be friends - even if that wasn't really allowed.
They were up against gamma team; Brainchild, Chimera, and Johnny Red. Johnny Red was liked by everybody, because he could fly, and he liked to take his friends up with him, so everybody tried to be his friend. Chimera didn't seem to care about anybody else, she could blind people, or turn herself invisible, but her blindness wasn't like Aurora's Aurora could burn out a person's optic nerves, while Chimera could only cause a momentary disruption. And Darkstar could also create a zone of darkness - only six meters around now; but she'd been told that once she matured that could grow as much as ten times!
Brainchild was smart, really smart. He knew it, and bossed everybody else around. Darkstar listened to him, and he listened to her - they understood what it meant to be bullied, both had been when they were younger, and had forged an alliance against the other troopers to protect one another if they were able. Aurora liked him, but she didn't trust him.
They crept through the dense undergrowth, moving almost silently, intent on their target, the red flag. Gamma team was to stop them any way short of actually hitting them, and they weren't allowed to actually hit the other team. Riker stopped suddenly, and looked around. Aurora heard it then, a dry crackling sound that grew closer with frightening swiftness. `Fire.' Gooseman had said, and they had bolted out of the undergrowth into a clearing filled with swirling smoke and the red-orange flickering light of a forest fire.
Riker had sworn, some words he'd leaned from one of the medical techs, and looked around for something to protect them. Gooseman looked at Aurora, then ran towards the fire. `Wait!' She'd cried, then began to run after him, but the heat drove her back. He plunged into the fire, screaming. Killbane watched without trying to help. `Stupid runt." He'd said, then pulled some brush aside to reveal a pit-trap. `Get in.' He'd growled. Still in shock, Aurora climbed down into the trap, Killbane followed, and they waited, watching the flames roar over them, but safe under the ground. Hours later, the Wolf Den retrieval teams had flown over, spraying fire suppresant, and they had signalled with their wristcoms. Climbing out of the pit trap, they were surprised to see Gooseman, his clothing in tatters, but unburnt.
She'd later learnt that his powers meant he could generate armor against almost any sort of damage, like Riker, but his powers were more developed at a younger age than Riker's.
Fourteen-year old Aurora sitting on the edge of one of the bunks, with some of the others, watching Chimera and Killbane have sex. They'd finished one of the few classes on biology which dealt with sexual reproduction, and Chimera had expressed an interest in trying it. Of all of them, only Riker was game to try, against all the warnings and threats from the bosses. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Aurora was getting interested, as were some of the other girls.
Just at the end, when Riker was having his orgasm, the dorm door was flung open, and the bosses stormed in, with medical techs and some security. In the flurry, Riker and Chimera vanished with the bosses, and the others were left standing, with Commander Walsh and Doctor N'Gata.
`Children, you must understand that although you are sexually active, it is not permitted for you to have sexual relations at this point in your training.' Dr. N'Gata had told them, while Walsh stood by him, patting his stick against the palm of his hand to punctuate the doctor's statements.
They had all felt that stick; either directly, against back, buttocks, or legs, or by it's influence and ability to throw an energy beam which could sting far longer than a quick snap across bare flesh.
`But why, Doctor?" Aurora had asked, and then saw stars as Walsh slapped her across the cheek with the stick, sending a wave of pain through her and bringing tears to her eyes.
`You are NOT to get involved with one another, is that understood? There is no why, your place is to train, and obey. Not to get involved with each other. You have been raised and paid for by the governments of this planet to defend it, not to have sex with each other. There is no room in your lives for love, only war. Don't forget it.' Walsh had said, then he and N'Gata had left, leaving the troopers to think over what had been said.
..."What's happening to us!" Someone cried. Aurora felt a surge of enerrgy truogh her as her darkness field flared and flowed out, uncontrolled. She fought within herself, bringing her power back under control, until she was knocked aside by Gravestone as he stumbled about, head ablaze with some form of energy.
A few of the troopers stum,bled towards the main door, Where Doctor N'Gata struggled to close them in! Aurora tried to stop him, while Gravestone growled about treason and batrayl. Then something amazing happened. Briainchild pulled an electrical cable loose, and pushed the live end into Gravestone. He cried with pain, but his body became supercharged, and he grabbed N'Gata, throwing him against a wall with a sickly crunch, and he then smashed down the door. The troopers ran out, still changing, Aurora ran with them.
Aurora looked up at Stingray, his face contorted with rage, still feeling the sting on her cheek and her side from where he'd hit her.
`Enough, Ray!' She'd cried. `I've had enough!'
`The hell you have, you're mine, Darkstar, don't you forget it!' He'd growled, raising his hand to hit her again.
Aurora triggered her powers, blinding him even as she twisted and kicked him in the stomach, throwing him into a chair, which broke under the impact.
Getting to her feet, she grabbed a carisak, and was out the door before Stingray's vision cleared. The last thing she heard was his broken sobbing as he realised what he'd done, but it was too late, she was free.
"Coming up on Texton, Goose." Alma advised them as the ship flew through the red-streaked void of hyperspace. Shane looked up from the control panel and watched the display, noting the coordinates.
Leaning forward, he pushed the flashing tab, and the ship shuddered as it's hyperdrive engines reversed, bringing it back into normal space A flash swept away from the drive exhaust as the hyperdrive radiated the excess plasma in a rapidly fading light ring.
"Niko, we'll be landing on Texton in ten minutes." Shane said into the intercom as he took control from Alma and began to pilot the ship towards the slowly approachig planet.
Five minutes later, as Goose began to final approach to the Texton Moon Spaceport, Niko walked back into the control cabin, sat down, and clipped her belt. Her hair was still damp from the shower she'd had, and she was still blinking sleep out of her eyes.
"Sleep well, babe?" Goose asked.
Niko nodded, then glanced out the port and gasped. Goose looked, then swung the controls, and the ship swerved out of the path of the huge tumbling hulk.
Passing the slowly rotating debris, they came into a drifting graveyard of ships, metal fragments, and shattered bodies.
"I wondered why we hadn't received a signal from the base, now I know." Goose aid, slowing the ship down as they approached the burnt-out remains of the lunar base. "Alma, full scan, any life signs?" Niko asked, flipping switches to bring the cruiser's full sensing equipment online.
"Scanning." Alma replied, and they watched the images slowly build up as the ship came to a stop, six hundred meters from the shattered remains of the orbital station.
"No life signs detected on the orbital colony. Scanning lunar bases now." Alma reported, confirming what they were seeing on the screens.
"What the hell happened here?" Goose wondered.
Niko looked at the readings. "This place has been torn apart by some sort of tractor beam, there's no ionisation or melting, like with a laser beam. Something came through and ripped everything apart."
Alma spoke into the silence. "Life forms have been detected on the Lunar base. Energy emissions, but intermittant. The base has been critically damaged, and it's life support has failed."
Goose fired the engines and began to maneuver the ship through the thickening debris. "Raise shields, Alma, full forward."
"Shields up, Goose." The ship's computer replied as the view became slightly hazy, as if seen through a very light sheen of water. Small flashes became visible as the shields began to deflect objects in the path of the descending starship.
"Niko, get the medical bay ready, we're probably going to have casualties." Goose said, swinging the ship to avoid a large tumbling mass of metal.
"Right, Goose." She replied, getting up and making her way aft.
Goose piloted the ship down, watching the screen intently as he dodged the larger bits, and used the shields to deflect the smaller ones.
A cloud of dust swirled around the ship as it settled onto it's landing pads. Goose shut down the engines as he extended the docking tube to the damaged airlock of the lunar base.
He was met at the entrance by Niko, weighed down with a heavy medkit. Goose took it from her, they looked at each other, then Niko nodded and they walked down the tube towards the shattered remains of what was once a thriving scientific research facility.
Slade opened his eyes, and could see again. But, there was a difference, the images were sharper, more defined, even brighter than he remembered. He looked down at himself, and couldn't suppress an involentary gasp. His entire lower body was robotic, along with both arms, and a large section of his torso. He looked at the hand, and marveled at the quality of the construction. The detail was amazing - right down to being able to feel touch with the fingertips. Slade smiled, and looked around. "Where am I?" A voice replied from another section of the room, from behind a partition. "You're safe, Slade, and healed."
Slade looked around frantically. "I know that voice, but it can't be ... you're dead!"
A figure stepped from behind the partition, long flowing white robe, glowing red crystal in the centre of an imposing chest, and a hooded face which displayed a shimmering, transparent image.
"Death is such a transient thing, Slade. My body died, but my spirit can never die!"
Aurora came awake suddenly, feeling both alert and cautious. She sat up and looked aroud. Some kind of medical ward, private room obviously. On the door, the BETA logo. She was still at BETA, not the Longshot Facility. That was good. She searched and then access what she wanted. Extending her power, she sensed the room, and beyond the door. Two figures, and a floating metallic object. They were just about to enter. Aurora stood up, and pulled on the slipsuit lying on a chair. She turned as the door opened.
"You could give a girl enough time to get decent." Were her first words to Commander Walsh and the floating metallic thing.
"We apologise Darkstar." The floating metal thing said. The voice sounded like N'Gata, but he was long-dead. "What are you?" She asked.
"I am all that remains of Owen N'Gata. After the Wolf Den incident, my brain was preserved in this device. It has enabled me to continue to function and guide the League through many crises. Are we about to enter a new one?"
"Why did you place a genetic inhibitor in all the Supertroopers?" She demanded.
"In what way do you call the protein links a genetic inhibitor?" Owen asked.
"Don't play around with words, brain!" She growled, a glow begining to form around her.
"They are dying out there! I survived because I managed to get to a place which let me save myself. But Stingray, Jackhammer, Chimera ... they are all going to die! Why did you do it?"
Walsh looked at N'Gata, but it was the disembodied Doctor who spoke. "It was necessary to ensure your loyalty to the League, Darkstar. We needed a way to ensure you would need us once you were on a mission, away from Wolf Den. So we engeneered you in such a way that your bodies needed a special synthetic enzyme that was only available from us at Wolf Den. Your bodies can manufacture some of it, but not sufficient to keep you from growing weaker over a period of time."
"What is it?"
"I am not going to release that information, Darkstar. The Renegade Supertroopers must be contained. They are far more dangerous than you can imagine."
She took a step towards the floating brain, but Walsh stepped in between them.
"You do want us dead, don't you?" She accused.
Walsh shook his head. "No, not at all. I want you alive and functional. As we have always wanted. What happened four years ago was an unfortunate accident. Once which can never be reversed, but which can be forgotten, if you are willing to come halfway home."
"Why? what for? What can you offer us?"
Beyond the Edge of Darkness - Part 2
"Ships log, April 18th, 2104 - We just finished administering what medical assistance we could to the survivors of the Texton Moon Science Outpost. Not much we could do, the few who had survived the unprovoked attack were so badly injured the only thing possible was to make them as comfortable as we could until they passed on. It was a horrible sight to behold. Goose was stoic, as usual, but I couldn't help but feel useless, seeing so many good people dying, and knowing there simply was't anything I could do to save them."
Niko flicked off the recorder and sat back in her chair, rubbing her burning eyes in an attempt to wake herself up again. Both she and Goose had been running on adrenaline and stimulants since they had landed fifty-three hours ago - and she was at her end; Goose was still cruising, somewhere, outside, checking to see if any of the automated systems had recorded anything of the attackers. She hoped he'd find something, because what had happened here had couldn't just be forgotton - the base had been shredded, as if by a gigantic claw, huge rips in the walls, life support systems sheared and sliced through - the people had been left to die, and all of them had died.
She felt something odd, and looked down at her hands, they were beginning to shake - Niko concentrated on her inner light, trying to find balance again, but her light was seeming to flicker in and out of focus, just like she felt, and she finally gave herself over to the built-up stress - falling asleep a few minutes later.
Shane Gooseman entered the ship a few hours later, carrying one of Texton Moon's recorder memory banks. This unit had been hit by whatever had attacked the base, but had still been functional when he got to it, spining wildly in an evcccentric orbit that would have it collide with the moon in only a few hours. He had managed to rip the memory bank out of the large sensor pod, and had jettted back to the ship, hoping Alma could read the data.
Pullling his helmet off, he walked into the science bay and clumped the menory bank on a table, then hooked the telltales up to it's access points.
"Alma, try to access this memory system, I want to see whatever it recorded." He told the ship.
"Right away, Goose." Came the contralto reply, and Goose saw one of the screen light up with a crackly image which quickly cleared.
"I've scanned the entire memory bank, this point is where it gets interesting." Alma said, and Goose saw movement. A flaming object approached the recorder, almost dead-on - in the last instant before the recorder got hit, and flung out of position, Goose saw what was at the center of the burning miasma, and gasped in shock.
"That's not possible. Alma, replay the last ten seconds, but slow it down to ten percent speed." He ordered.
Watching the scene unfold again, Goose recognised sixteen figures in the burning cloud, including the one that was generating the firestorm, and the one producing the energy bubble keeping them all alive.
"Alma, do you recognise anyone?" He asked.
"I do not understand, Goose. I see nothing recorded except a distortion wave passing by and intercepting the recorder bouy. I recognise no life forms within the wave."
Goose looked at the frozen image on the screen, showing the clearly defined figures of his former comrades, and wondered what was going on
"Zach, we have a problem." Doc said as he watched the monitors.
Captain Fox stepped over to Doc's station, alert and ready to sort out whatever was wrong.
"What is it, Doc."
"The cryocrypts are beginning to malfunction. Units four, sixteen, thirty-three and forty are showing signs of power fluctuation. Their diagnostics read fine, but the units themselves are trying to shut down."
Zach narrowed his eyes. "What does that mean for us?"
"If the unit powers off, then it automatically wakes up whoever is inside. We'd have four rather angry supertroopers awake and alert. Oh no, now units five, eleven and twenty-three are showing the same error sequence."
Doc pulled out his CDU and tapped his badge. The illumination from the diamond of light shone a ghostly pale light on him as his superprograms activated, swirling around him like animated fireflies - which one of them was.
"Ok tweakers. Get in there and find out what's wrong; Firefly, see if you can't boost the diagnostics to tell me what's wrong; Pathfinder, go into the system and find me the source of the errors; Lifeline, keep the Supertroopers out cold, I don't care what you have to do. Get to it, tweakers."
The animated fireflies swirled around for a second then flew into the consoles, which flared briefly as they found their way into the curcuitry. Doc watche anxiously as the indicators showed the progress of his troops, while Zach stood nearby, watching the Doctor operate..
A few minutes later, Pathfinder reemerged and dropped into the CDU - Doc whistled low and long as he looked at the results.
"What is it, Doc?" Zach asked
"We've been sabatoged, Captain. The Cryocrypts have all been equipped with power leeches, which have been draining ther internal reserrves. We can't stop the cycle. Even if we turned around and hi-tailed it back to Earth, the crypts would be out of power before we were halfway there. We got an hour before the units begin to wake up their occupants."
The other two tweakers reappeared and dowloaded themselves into the CDU, which flickered and flared for a while, then Doc shut it down.
"OK, I've given us some extra time, Firefly has managed to route the leeches into a recursive loop, so now they're leeching each other. It won't last long, but will give us another hour or so. And Lifeline has managed to boost the support systems to keep the cryocrypts active longer. Captain, we've got to set down somewhere. When these people wake up, the one thing they won't want to see is the law, and there are only two of us, Zachary."
"What systems are close to us, Doc?" The captain asked.
"Nothing within the range of the ship before the power fails, Captain. Texton is still two and a half hours away, the next closest is Nebraska, three hours away."
"No, Doc. Not inhabited systems, but systems with habitable worlds not in the League. What is available for us to land this ship ... and scuttle it."
Doc looked at Zach for a moment, than turned to the console. "The closest habitable world is in the system of Ophiuchus Epsilon - it's cold, but has a breathable atmosphere, and the seeder probes from Andor sprayed it with active seed over a thousand years ago, so there will be lots of plants and some basic animals. If we have to exile them, this is a good world."
Zach sat back, nearly slumped in his seat by the weight of his decision. It took Doc's prompting to bring him back into focus ... `Captain, if we are to land and safely disable the ship, we have to make the course change now, or we won't have enogh time."
Zach nodded. "Do it, Doc - I can't see any other safe way to resolve this, set course for the Ophiucus Epsilon system, and prepare to scuttle this transport."
"What is the status of repairs?" Came the voicd behind him, making First Lieutenant Frodor jump. He spun around to face the commander of the ship, and made the sign of respect.
"C-commander, the repairs go well, we estimate one more hour until full power is restored, and another six until all systems are fully repaired, sir."
He gasped as he was hauled off his feet to dangle half his body length in the air, nose to nose with the muchly feared Commander. "Not ... good ... enough." Came the voice, and Frodor nodded, closing his eyes.
Seconds later, a dull thud echoed, something hit the deck with a boneless thump, like a sack of wet potatoes, and the clumping of footsteps echoed into silence, leaving the remains of a loyal officer to be removed by his suddenly energised subordinates.
Fifty minutes later, Riker Killbane stomped onto the bridge of the ship and sat in the command chair, gazing onto the emptiness of the void laid out before him. His great plan had failed, failed, FAILED! Even with that annoying gnat Brainchild's help, he had not only failed to take out BETA, but couldn't even rescue his people from the clutches of their warders.
A nervous officer walked up to stand slightly behind the chair, and then cleared his throat.
"What do you want?" Killbane asked in a deep, dangerous voice.
"Repairs are complete to the primary systems, Sir. We can move out whenever you feel. And, Sir - this communication arrived for you, from an automated system on a League transport near the Ophiuchus Eridani system."
Killbane sat up. "Excellent, set a course for that system - I have an idea, and ... find Brainchild, I want to talk with him."
The huge starship shuddered visibly as it's engines fired, but it then began to smoothly accelerate, sweeping through space at increasing velocity, until it's hyperdrive engines flared, and it shot into the non-Einsteinian void of hyperspace.
Brainchild walked onto the bridge some fifteen minutes later, to find that it was totally dark, except for the ghastly reddish light from hyperspace filtering in through the windows. Walking up to stand behind the huge Supertrooper, the hyper-intelligent dwarf was slightly concerned.
"What do you want, Killbane?"
"What would you do if you had a ship full of cryostasis tubes, and were fleeing a potential warzone?"
"Go to another system capable of taking care of the cryostasis equipment, if that was the important thing... Why?"
"Because I'm sure that's what Walsh and N'Gata have done - when they knew we were coming, they launched a transport filled with all the Supertroopers." Killbane replied, gazing into the red-streaked nothingness of hyperspace.
"How can you be so sure - Longshot and BETA are the safest place for the cryocrypts. You take them into space without adequate power, and their occupant will wake up."
"Because, you little dwarf - I had someone on the inside do some work on the cryocrypts. Using some of Slade's contacts, I managed to get to somebody deep within the Medical section, somebody who'se now going to be rather dead when she arrives at her `safe' House, but who installed a bunch of equipment on the supertrooper's cryocrypts that will drain off their power in a few hours once the crypts are disconnected from the main power."
"So?" Brainchild asked, amused that Killbane had even thought of something more original than how to put on his own shoes.
"They're going to be waking up, Brainchild - and I know where they are - Not on Earth, and this is where we are going!" Killbane pointed to the coordinates on the screen, and Brainchild took a close look, his near-sightedness making sure he didn't notice Killbane moving up behind him.
He gasped as he felt Killbane's incredibly strong fingers around him, and stuggled, to no avail as Killbane wrapped a long arm around his chest, then grabbed his head in the other huge hand.
"You see, Brainchild - I don't need you any longer, none of us need you - We don't need a general - we need our freedom!" Killbane finished with a vicious twist. A loud crackling snap echoed in the deathly quiet bridge.
"All systems ready, Captain. We're coming in to land on the largest plain we can easily find. Touchdown in thirty seconds. We'll have ten minutes to disable the ship and get clear before the first cryocrypt opens up."
"Good, that's more than enough time, Doc." Zach said, watching his consoles as he prepared to guide the huge transport to a soft landing on the rough planet unfolding beneath them.
With a roar of it's huge engine pods, the transport settled onto it's immense landing gear amidst a chorus of metallic groans and shrieks. The Bridge swayed roughly, and the two human crew were almost thrown out of their seats.
"What happened?" Zach cried.
"We landed on an uneven surface, the port forward landing gear is three meters higher than any other set, and at an angle, it's sheared off, Captain. We're listing at thirty-six degrees."
Zach got up, as did Doc, and they powered down their consoles.
"Can we still launch the interceptors, Doc?"
"Of course, Captain. You don't think I'd land us so badly that we couldn't get off again, did you?"
"Of course not, Doc - just checking is all." Zach said as they walked up the sloping deck. They climbed up an awkward laddershaft, until they reached a sturdy airlock, which was opened and they climbed onto the upper hull of the transport. Sitting nestled against the hull, two Ranger Interceptors, powered up and ready for launch.
"Get going, Doc. I'll be with you as soon as I've made sure this transport will never lift again."
"Don't take any time to play with the natives, Captain. We got less than five minutes left." Doc said as he carefully walked over to to his ship and prepared to climb aboard.
Zach nodded, and walked gingerly over the sloping hull until he stood near one of the four huge drive pylons. These held the huge engine pods, and were designed to take a huge amount of stress from the engine to ensure that it didn't rip free of the ship under full thrust.
Zach tapped his badge, and made a fist with his left arm as he extended hit to point at a point near the junction between the pylon and the main hull. A surge of energy made him slightly dizzy, and he felt a rush of tension as a bolt let loose from his fist to scream across the space and impact the support pylon.
The huge pylon began to slowly bend under it's own weight, and Zach backed away as the huge engine pod broke free and fell fifty meters to the ground with a huge crash. Turning, he faced another of the engine pylons and repeated the gesture. As he backed off, Doc's ship roared to life and lifted off the transport's hull. It was time to leave.
Making his way to his ship, Zack climbed aboard and clipped on his helmet.
"GV, lift off." He ordered.
"Right away, Sir." Came the AI's voice as the small ship roared to life and VTOLed off the hull to join Doc's ship hovering above the transport.
They took one last look at the transport, two of it's four engines blown off the hull, and white steam rising from the venting fuel tanks, ensuring that the vessel would never fly again; then both interceptors left the ruined ship, arcing towards deep space and an uncertain future.
"Sir, we have settled into a retrograde orbit, and as you suspected, sensors have picked up two Galaxy Ranger ships leaving the area. The transport has been crippled." Killbane nodded slowly as he listened to the report, and smiled. "Wait until the Ranger ships have left the system, then proceed to land. We want them to think they've done the right thing in exiling my people - how wrong they shall be."
He turned and smiled widely at the figure on the rear bridge wall; a macabre scene was beginning to unfold, with organic stains, swirls and pieces encircling the vaccuum - preserved remains of Brainchild.
"Well, old comrade," Killbane said, "I have surpassed you, and soon I shall surpass everyone, I am the first, best, and only leader of the Supertroopers." He turned to face the main windows even as an aide rushed up to report "The Ranger ships have entered hyperspace, sir."
"Land us, and prepare to welcome my people into our family!"
"You offer us freedom, when you instill within us a genetic enzyme that kills us without treatment?"
"You are warriors, first and foremost." N'Gata protested. "We have to keep some measure of contol. Why else do you think we didn't try to really stop you leaving Earth once you broke free of Wolf Den?"
"You couldn't stop us - no human can stop a Supertrooper. We're the perfect fighting machine." She replied.
"That is crap, Darkstar." Walsh snapped. "We could have blown you out of space as soon as you left the atmosphere. The four ships you were in were no match for the combat ships already in orbit. But our orders were specific. Let you leave, and see what happens."
"So you let us go?"
"Yes." Walsh said. "We let you go."
"Why?" She demanded.
"Because we wanted to see if you could survive outside of Wolf Den, without killing too many people."
Darkstar squinted at him. "Why turn Shane into a bounty hunder and send him after us?"
"You proved to be unable to stop killing and hurting people. We had to try and control you. Shane Gooseman was our only chance. He remained behind while the rest of you ran. He remained loyal to Wolf Den and the ideals of the Supertroopers. Remember, Darkstar, you and shane are from the final batch of Supertroopers. You are the best of the best. Killbane and Gravestone are first-batchers - they are unfinished, rough-cut. You, Goose, Chimera - all of you are finished jewels, finely tuned and ready to take on the universe."
"You sound like you're selling a product." Darkstar snapped. "We're living, breathing human beings. You may have built us in a vat of chemicals and nutrients, but we still have rights!"
Walsh sighed. "Yes, you do. I know this, and N'Gata knows this. But the rest of the League thinks your biological weapons, Designed by BETA for war, and to be used in war. The fact that once you escaped you went on a rampage through the inhabited worlds didn't help your cause any."
"I had no control over the others. I stayed with Stingray and tried to ensure he didn't do too much damage."
"I know, and I thank you for it. Why do you think I allowed you to remain on Frontier?"
She blinked. "Why?"
"Because I trusted you, Darkstar. I trusted your instincts to know what was right and wrong, and to ensure Stingray would try and follow the line."
"What are you going to do now?"
"Wait for my people to contact me. I sent them off with the supertroopers still in stasis. They will contact me when they are about to return. Then we'll decide what to do."
Walsh walked out, N'Gata floating behind him, and they closed the door, leaving Darkstar with her own thoughts and council.
Beyond the Edge of Darkness - Part 3
"Darkstar, I'm here. What do you need?"
The diffuse light began to condense and quickly formed a figure floating in the air, in a lotus position. It quickly solidified into the very familiar form of Darkstar, before her transformation, complete with half-mask and black bodysuit.
Walsh looked at N'Gata in shock, the hoverbed continued to monitor the room, but the artificial voice made the unspoken word audible.
"That is not one of your abilities, Darkstar. That ability was unique to Quantum."
"I was feeling odd, and began to think of the others, then I felt myself ... spreading out, and my awareness stretched to find them. I recovered when you both came in." She said, somewhat confused, then shook herself and looked squarely at Walsh.
"I can sense a problem, Commander Walsh. Don't ask me how, but it concerns my brothers and sisters. Why did you move them from their cryocrypts?"
Walsh masked his surprise. "We had to, There was an attack which directly concerned them, and we felt the safest thing to do was to move them off-planet until it was over."
Darkstar stared into nothingness for a second, then turned her vacant eyes back to Walsh. "The danger you sought to protect them from has found them, Commander. My brothers and sisters are awake, angry, and ... and ... Killbane!"
"Killbane!" Walsh growled. "He was involved in the attack, Darkstar. What about him?"
"He's found them, Commander. We must help them. I know where they are, in general, but this information will fade soon. Can you show me a star chart?"
Walsh looked at N'Gata. The hoverbed floated silently, then `Go! I'll cover for you. Joseph, we can't allow them to be forcibly returned to Earth, or used by Killbane for his own purposes. It is time for the Supertroopers to make their own life-decision. We made a mistake once before, let's not do it again."
"I agree, Owen. Aurora, let's go."
The two rushed out of the ward and began to walk back to the main staging area within BETA, N'Gata's biobed floating to a console where he linked in and began to issue instructions.
Delphi woke first, and sat up, pushing the glass cover off him as he looked around. This wasn't the cryocrypt. The other supertroopers were here, but they were not on Earth - the gravity felt lighter. Delphi stood up and walked to the next chamber, it was cycling to an awake state as well. He glanced around, all the forty-six crypts were sequencing out of suspended sleep.
Another chamber popped open, and it's occupant sat up. "Hey, Red! Good to see you up and alert again." Delphi said as he walked over to help the other trooper out of the coffin-like chamber.
"What happened? Last thing I recall there was some kind of gas in the dorms." Johnny Red said as he wavered unsteadily.
"We got canned, literally, Red." Delphi snarled. "I warned them I told them I could see us being captured, but they wouldn't listen; Brainchild ignored me, Killbane sneered, and the others just didn't care. I got nabbed, and slammed into frozen sleep. Some of the others got caught after me, some before. And now, we're all waking up again."
"Yeah, but where? It ain't Earth. I'm too light." Johnny said, standing on his own now that the dizziness had pased. "And, I'm starving!"
"Me too." Delphi added. They heard the sound of another crypt and walked over to help the occupant back to the world of the living.
The huge blood-red ship settled to a landing two kilometers from the downed transport. A hatch opened, And Killbane stepped out then walked down to the hard tundra. "Wait here, I will return with my people, but only I can approach them without attack." He turned to face his 2IC. "Make sure no ships land before I return with my people, do whatever you have to."
The Dathon nodded and spun, growling orders to the other crewmembers.
Killbane began to walk towards the transport, noting the surroundings as he walked. Within ten minutes he'd covered half the distance, and topping a low rise, saw the transport properly. The ship looked intact, exccept for two of it's engine pods lying shatterred and crumpled beside it, and an oily sheen all over the top half that could only be evaporated fuel.
`They did a good job of scuttling it.' He thought as he began to walk down towards the transport. Salvage was virtually useless on the ship. Hyperdrive is shot without the league's special fuel, and with those two engine pods gone, there was no way the ship would survive a tow, it would shatter under the hyperspace stresses.
He climbed over the last rise and walked to the hatchway on the belly of the ship. Pulling his gun, Killbane took aim and fired, blowing a hole in the control panel. Stepping up to the door, he put his hands on it and heaved, the door slid open easily. Laughing softly to himself, Killbane stepped into the ship and walked towards the central corridor. He heard the voices long before he saw them, and moved with caution.
Rounding a corner, he stopped, as did the eight supertroopers who were walking towards him.
"Killbane?" One of them asked, incredulous.
"Yes, my brothers, it is I, here to rescue you from exile!"
"Commander, I can't allow you to take this patient out of BETA, Board orders, sir!" The adjutant said, clearly torn between loyalty towards his commanding officer and orders from the Board of World Leaders.
"Let me make the decision for you, little man." Darkstar said, and touched the officer on the shoulder. He gasped, and crumpled, his lips turning a deathly blue. As Walsh watched, the colour returned to him, but he remained out cold.
"That's Grimlok's ability." Walsh said.
"I know. I can access more and more of the other abilities. I'm ot sure if I like it or not." She said.
"I think I do, come on, I'll explain once we're out of here." He indicated the open door. Darkstar stepped through the hatchway and onto the flight deck of BETA, where a Ranger Interceptor stood ready for launch, courtesy of N'Gata.
Climbing aboard, they both strapped in, and Walsh looked at the controls a bit warily. "It's been a long time, but ..." He pushed the correct sequence of buttons, and the ship smoothly powered up into it's pre-flight check.
"This is commander Walsh aboard Ranger Interceptor-07, flight plan from BETA to ..." He looked at Darkstar.
"A map, please." She asked him.
"Of course." He tapped a few buttons, and a map appeared on the small screen. Darkstar lookedat it, then indicated a star, which expanded to show it's details.
"Flight plan from BETA Mountain to Ophiuchus Epsilon. I need immediate clearance to launch, Priority Omega."
"This is BETA Mountain Command, you are cleared for immediate launch, Commander. Good luck, sir."
Walsh hit the flashing button, and pushed the throttle forward; the ship glided smoothly out of the launch cradle and screamed down the corridor, into clear air outside the mountain.
As the ship accelerated out of the atmosphere, Walsh turned to Aurora. "I hope you have some idea of what we'll do when we get there, Darkstar. This stunt could cost me a lot more than my command."
"You worry too much, Joseph - everything will be fine, we just have to find my brothers and sisters, and make sure Killbane doesn't find them first."
Walsh looked at Darkstar. "You seem very sure of yourself, almost like Delphi - what's happening to you, Aurora?"
She smiled serenely, saying nothing and gazed into the void outside the windows.
The control panel beeped, indicating that the course had been locked in and was ready to engage. Joseph reached for the hyperdrive sequencer as another panel lit up, indicating a ship exiting hyperdrive. He took the controls and swung the interceptor out of the way as two smaller ranger ships dropped out of the hyperdrive corona on a course for Earth.
"Ranger interceptors, this is Commander Walsh aboard Interceptor 7 - Identify yourselves."
"Commander?" Came the voice from one of the other ships. "It's Captain Foxx and Ranger Hartford. What on earth are you doing up here?"
Walsh smiled grimly. "Turn your ships around, and lock in a course for Ophiucus Epsilon, we've got to rescue the Supertroopers from Killbane."
"We just came from there, there was no evidence of another ship, sir." Doc said into the silence as the two smaller ships swung around to match course and speed with the larger two-man ship.
"Believe me, he's there. And while we're en-route, you can tell me why you abandoned the supertroopers."
The three ships flashed back into hyperdrive, on a direct heading for the system that was becoming very popular all of a sudden.
"Ranger-4 calling BETA command, are you receiving?"
Goose looked at Niko, who looked back at him. "Try again, Goose. Somebody has to be there."
Goose flipped on the transmitter again, but a crackling voice came through the speakers.
"Ranger-4, this is Commander Walsh. Gooseman, Niko, plot a course for Ophiucus Epsilon, and get over here fast - Killbane's loose, with a Crown Destroyer. He's already attacked Earth, and now he's after all the Supertroopers."
Goose jerked at the news, and was already powering up the cruiser's engines even as Niko picked up the comm to reply.
"Understood, Commander. ETA three hours." She said as Goose fired the engines. "Alma, chart a course, fastest route."
"Right away, Goose." Came the reply as the computer scanned the charts and plotted the most direct course to the targeted system.
The Cruiser accelerated out of the debris field rapidly, soon in clear space, and with a flare of it's engines, flicked into hyperspace.
. "Killbane - we aren't leaving!" Scarab growled, his tail lashing angrily.
The huge supertrooper mutant looked at the small, wiry trooper. "What do you mean, you aren't leaving? Of course you are, this makes perfect sense."
Scarab shook his head, his wiry hair flying around. "Like I said, Killbane. We ain't leaving. We're free, and we don't want to fight no more. Let us alone, man."
"You are Supertroopers! You are designed to fight - the people of Earth had you imprisoned because all you know is fighting. I want them to pay for putting all of you away - don't you want revenge?"
Delphi looked up at Killbane. "No."
"I don't believe what I am hearing. You have all gone soft! You're weak, like that runt Gooseman. And to think I was thinking of having you as allies in my fight against Earth. I can see that there is only one solution."
Johnny Red stood up and walked over to Killbane, then levitated until he was squarely eye-level.
"We" He said, "Are tired of fighting somebody else's wars, of being controlled by other people, Killbane. And not you, nor Walsh, nor some godless empire is going to tell us what to do, or who to do it to!"
Killbane batted Johnny aside with a lazy wave of his hand, the floating supertrooper slammed into the bulkhead hard enough to leave a dent, and slumped to the ground, dazed.
Scarab leapt, faster than Killbane could react, and his six inch talons sunk into Killbane's neck. Killbane roared, and grabbing the wiry trooper, pulled him off and flung him across the wardroom.
He spun for the next attack, and suddenly found himself floating, in a bubble of null-g. Growling in frustraton, he extruded spikes and lashed out, but his blow was deflected by the very flexible bubble wall.
"You can't break free, Killbane." Andromeda said, still concentating to keep the bubble intact. "As long as I'm conscious, my null-g bubble will remain solid against any form of attack you can generate. Remember, I was designed as a control against all of you, until the incident."
Killbane floated, silently fuming as he watched the supertroopers, HIS supertroopers discuss what to do amongst themselves.
"We've been asleep, what, four years?"
"More like ten, from the changes I've seen."
"Look at Killbane, he's gigantic - the genetic enhancer couldn't have done that."
"I agree, somebody's been continuing the supertrooper program, without us."
"Good, somebody else can be the guinea pigs, I'm tired of it!"
"Look that's beside the point, the main point is ... what are we going to do?"
"Red's right. We're free, but can't leave this planet on our own power. What do we want to do, Killbane will get us off, but we have to let him lead us."
"I don't want to be lead by anybody else. I want to live my own life, and that doesn't include fighitng. Walsh and N'Gata gave us extensive survival training - let's use it."
"A good suggestion, any opposition?"
There were no opposing comments, and four of the supertroopers, including Andromeda turned to Killbane.
"We've discussed it, Killbane. And we have decided - we don't want you here." The bubble popped, and Killbane landed on his feet. "Get out, leave this planet, and don't return."
Killbane laughed. "You're just going to let me go?"
"Why not?" Johnny Red asked him, beginning to smoulder a bit around the edges.
"You've forgotten everything N'Gata taught you about tactics - your most dangerous enemy is the one you leave standing!"
"I don't think so." Came a very deep voice from behind him. Killbane spun, and gasped as a hand shot out and hit him in the chest. He triggered his defenses, but they were to no avail as he felt his blood churning as it's motion was frozen, all brownian motion drained away by Grimlok's power.
He lost consciousness, and collapsed, blue with cold as his body core temperature dropped to near-freezing in a few seconds.
"What do we do with him?"
"He must have come in some sort of ship, let's find it, and drop him beside it."
Deep within the mathematical improbability that was hyperspace, three high probability nodes journied towards their destination. While a fourth rapidly approached, then joined the other three in their zone of moderate probability.
"Commander, I still feel that my decision was appropriate. Rather than attempt to bring them back to Earth, and have them wake up on the way, it seemed better to drop them on a habitable planet and exile them there. We would know where they are, and by disabling the ship, they would be contained to that planet."
"I agree, Commander." Goose piped in, "The supertroopers will feel much more secure if they aren't contained within a grey metal prison cell - on a planet, even an uninhabited one, they are free, sir. And they don't have to obey anybody except themselves."
"Except now, Killbane has found them." Aurora said into the silence.
"How do you know" Niko asked.
"I'm not sure." Darkstar replied, "I can ... sense it somehow. But I'm not sure how."
"That's intriguing." Niko said, thinking rapidly. "Whatever happened to you must have opened up more than just your abilities to control light and darkness - your entire power structure must be psychically based."
"Kestrel had the ability to sense what the other supertroopers were thinking; she was in synch with all of them. She was killed in the Wolf Den incident, though." Walsh commented.
"I remember." Shane said solomnly.
"That doesn't explain what happened to Darkstar. Even if her powers were blown wide open by whatever she went through, she should not gain the abilities of the other Supertroopers .. should she?" Niko asked.
"Actually, Niko. She is quite capable of gaining all the abilities. You see, we used one single artificial genome to generate all the powers. Each Supertroper has the same `power' gene, but each trooper has a different sequence of active and inactive chromosomes within that gene. Whatever hapened to Aurora appears to have activated all the chromosomes in the gene - so she's developing every power that we designed into the supertroopers." Walsh explained.
"What is going to happen to me?" Darkstar said, sounding very worried for once.
"At first, I felt great, having all this enregy, feeling free and finally being able to control my own life, but now it's beginning to spiral out of control."
"We'll take care of this once we deal with Killbane. Aurora. Don't worry. You won't have to face this alone. You will have all the help I personally can offer, and all the medical facilties from BETA." He then looked up at the monitors, "By the way, what are we going to do when we get to the planet?"
"Sir, you're the senior officer, you tell us." Doc replied.
Walsh shook his head. "I haven't commanded a field mission in eight years, people. Zachary, you take command, I'll follow your lead in this."
"If that's the way you want it, Commander." Zach replied.
"Commander, there is one more thing ..." Niko said, somewhat at a loss for words ... "We have Stingray on board."
"That's good. We might be able to pursuade him to help us." Walsh replied, while Darkstar looked shocked and more than a bit worried.
"Not likely, Commander. He's dying." Goose said. "Alma, transfer the medical readouts to Commander Walsh's ship."
Walsh took a long time to read the information. "That tears it, then." He said.
"What do you mean, Sir." Niko asked into the strained silence.
"I knew the genetic enhancer was dangerous, and this proves it, Stingray's conditon is a direct result of the missing enzyme. It's too far advanced in him for us to repair." Walsh sighed. "The other troopers are in the same danger, Killbane is probably safe, if Slade did the job properly, but the ones from the cryochambers will have at most four years before they begin to show advanced enzyme degredation."
"What about Darkstar?" Shane asked.
Walsh looked at Aurora. "She's different, Gooseman. She's been changed beyond genetic recognition, I don't think this will effect her."
"But, " Darkstar said, "My other siblings in exile, Chimera, Gravestone, Brainchild ... this will happen to them?"
Walsh nodded sadly. "Probably."
"We have to find them. If I have all the powers, then I should be able to access Rocheford's healing. I can heal them! I might be able to heal ... him." She said, hope beginning to build within her.
We've got a bigger problem to deal with first, Aurora." Walsh said.
"Right, of course. You're right. What's our next move, Commander."
"Zachary, you and Doc have been there, what's your plan?"
"There it is." Johnny Red said, hovering above a ridge northwest of the transport. "A big, ugly, red ship - brutal-looking, very simplistic."
"Knightmare grunted, and shifted Killbane's bulk onto his other shoulder. "How far, Red?" He asked in his metallic voice.
"Sixty meters, due east. You're parallel to it, just climb that ridge and you'll see the ugly thing."
"Right." The armoured dwarf said as he turned and rapidly climbed the rocky ridge. "You right, Red. Ugly piece of metal it is."
Striding down towards the ship, Knightmare was joined by Red as Andromeda appeared from one of her bubbles beside them. They stopped in front of the ship, and Red called out..."Ho, in the ship!"
The hatchway opened, and ten soldiers marched down the hatch, guns at the ready. The troopers didn't flich, and Knightmare dropped Killbane's unconscious body in front of them.
"This is yours. Take it, and leave our planet." Andromeda said.
The 2IC took in the scene, realised that something odd had happened, and decided to play along. He signalled to four of the soldiers, and they struggled with Killbane's massive bulk as they carried him back into the ship. He followed with the other soldiers, and they retreated into the destroyer. He closed the hatch, then said "Somebody get Killbane awake, then prepare for combat. He's going to be rather annoyed when he wakes up."
"Exiting hyperdrive, now." Alma reported, and the four ships dropped out of hyperspace, warp coronas expanding behind them as they dropped towards the planet below.
"Scanning... two ships located. League Transport, and Crown Destroyer of unknown configuration." Came the report from the cruiser as they rapidly approached the cold planet.
"Ok, people, let's take up our positions." Zach said. The two small interceptors closed with the Cruiser, and one by one, they docked. Zach and Doc climbed aboard and took up positions on the flight deck. Goose quickly climbed down into one of the interceptors, and downloaded Alma. Niko climbed into the other fighter and seperated.
Seperating from the cruiser, Goose and Niko swooped into the atmosphere ahead of the larger Cruiser. They were closely followed by the corsair, and the large cruiser took up the rear, it's bristing weapons array beginning to come to life.
"Commander, where did you get this ship? Cueball's Lab?" Doc asked as he accessed the munitions systems.
"We decided that the larger ships could do with some more firepower. This is an experimental model, Doc. It looks like we're going to get a live test of her firepower sooner than we expected."
"The Crown ship has detected us, Captain. It's taking off." Niko reported.
"Goose, Niko, it's all yours. Keep it distracted until we're close enough." Zach ordered.
The two interceptors leapt forward, accelerating into the thickening atmosphere, their shields easily compensating for the friction as they dove towards the lumbering destroyer.
On the destroyer, Killbane; pissed beyond belief, growled incoherently as he saw the ships approaching. "All weapon systems, lock on and fire. I want those League ships vaporised!"
Batteries of turbolasers spun in ther turrets, targeted, and began to fire on the ships as they swooped towards the destroyer. Goose took full control and dodged the barrage, firing back as he rapidly closed the gap. But, he had overestimated the maneuvering power of his small ship, this deep in the atmosphere, at his speed, he was unable to dodge properly, and the interceptor barrelled into the Destroyer, blowing a section of the larger ship clean off as it plummeted through.
"I'm out of control!" Goose said, "Ejecting!" He hit the button, and yanked the emergency lever. The interceptor fired all it's engines in reverse to slow it's hypersonic dive, then the cockpit visor blew off, and Goose's seat was launched skywards, along with the cybersteed in the cargo compartment.
The interceptor continued to maneuver, trying to clear the ground, but didn't suceed - it plowed into the hard earth at almost twice the speed of sound, leaving a long furrow and a large fireball.
"He's all right, his signal's still strong." Doc told Niko, who was stricken as she heard Goose's last message.
"We're in the thick of it, now!" Zach said as the cruiser came under heavy fire from the destroyer.
"I'm on it!" Niko replied, setging her own attack run on the Crown ship, she triggered her own guns. The Cruiser and corsaid swung into combat range and oepened up, three ships fired at the same time, drilling into the already damaged section of the destroyer.
Explosions rippled across the huge ship's hull, but it still managed to fireback, cutting into the underbelly of the Cruiser, causing damage across the boards.
"Good shot!" Walsh said. "It's going down."
"So are we, Commander." Zach replied, fighting with the controls to keep the damaged cruiser level. They watched as the destroyer slammed into a mountain, then slid to a halt, fires and explosions ripping it's hull apart.
"GV, where do we land?"
"Six kilometers directly ahead, a large flat plain, Sir-captain." came the reply.
Zach coaxed the distance out of the ship, and with it's landing gear extended, the cruiser slammed, hard, into the ground, sending up furrows of dirt and hardy grass as it slid almost another kilometer before coming to a stop.
"We're down, GV What's the status?"
"Engines failed, power systems intermittant, weapons and defenses failed. Sensors intermittant, life support failed. Medical support system failing." Came the damage report.
"Doc, check on Stingray, GV says the medical systems are shot!" Zach said as he unstrapped.
Climbing back, he came to the medical bay, sparks flew from some panels, and the lighting was flickering on and off, illuminating the bay in an eerie machivellian scene. Doc was already there, hovering around the single cryocrypt, which was misted over as GV frantically tried to revive Stingray before the power completely failed.
Doc watched the monitors anxiously. "I'm getting slow heartbeat, virtually no respiration, and no brain wave pattern at all - he's flatlined."
The door to the bay slid open with a protesting groan of metal, and Darkstar hurried in. "Out of my way!" She cried. She took Stingray's hands in her own, and closed her eyes. The rangers, joined by Commander Walsh stood back as energy began to flow around her and into Stingray's injured body.
"Whst's she doing?" Zach asked.
"She's using the ability of Supertrooper Rocheford. He had the ability to alter and enhance the healing agents of any of the supertroopers far beyond their normal rapid healing."
"Will it work?" Doc asked.
"It's the only chance Stingray's got left. We can't save him here." Walsh finished.
Darkstar ignored the commentary and focused all her energy, drawing the very essence of Stingray into herself so her healing force could focus on repairing his enzyme-depleted body.
She sent tendrils of energy through him, repairing the damage to his optic nerves, stopping the damage in his brain, repairing his liver and kidneys. After what seemed like hours, she began to withdraw, replacing her essence with his own, but she did one final alteration as she left, a parting gift. She let go of him and stood up, stretching.
She looked around, Everyone else was there. Goose having come in sometime during the operation. "He'll sleep for a while, yet. At least eight hours."
"GV, shut down all power systems and send out a distress beacon. There's nothing else we can do." Zach ordered.
"Careful, Captain - the power's still fluxing." Doc warned as the winches whined in an attempt to lower the cargo carriers to the ground. One of the containers was already down, and Niko was powering up the Cybersteed Mel. The container being moved was Doc's horse, Voyager, and it was giving them trouble. The wind had picked up, and the winches were straining to keep the cables taut as the container was lowered the twelve meters to the hard ground.
A sudden ripping sound alerted Doc, and he backed out of the way as one of the two winches gave way, loosing a long length of thin cable. Zach tapped his badge and grabbed the careening cable with his bionic hand; sparks flew, but the cable stopped. Zach carefully lowered the other cable and the container hit the ground with a loud thump.
"You all right?" He called down. Doc nodded and opened the container, preparing to power up the rather wacky cybersteed.
"The winches are shot, Doc. I'm going to power Brutus up and get him to jump down." Zach said.
"Sounds good to me, Captain." Doc called back.
Zach nodded and walked to the last cargo carrier. Slapping the button, the container opened up, releasing the large, golden steed within. It's systems went through their internal checks, and the horse stood up.
"Brutus, we got a problem. We can't lower you down, so you're going to have to jump about twelve meters. Can you do it?"
The cybersteed snorted, then spoke in one of it's few lucid moments. "Watch my dust."
Zach watched as his horse, the strongest of the four, walked to the edge of the open drop-bay, then snorted and leapt into the void. Walking to the edge, Zach saw Brutus standing on the ground, looking up at him as if to say `That was easy, your turn.'
`Why did I even bother to ask.' Zach thought to himself as he climbed down the ladder and joined the other two.
"You see anybody yet?" Goose asked.
"We had a long-distance visitor, I think it was Red." Darkstar replied. "He did a rapid flyby, then vanished back towards the transport. Nothing from the destroyer, though."
"Is it even remotely possible that the crash got rid of Killbane?" Doc asked.
Both Goose and Darkstar shook their heads. "Not a chance. He survived a direct impact with the Kierwyn defence shield, remember?" Goose said.
Darkstar looked towards the setting sun. "We'd better make a move soon, the sun's going down."
Zach nodded. "We'd better head for the Transport. If Killbane survived, he'll head there."
All agreed, they loaded the horses with what they could carry from the interceptor, then rode off towards the downed Transport, Brutus carrying Zach and Commander Walsh, with Niko and Darkstar on Mel.
The motly crew arrived at sundown, and crested the ridge, then pulled to a halt. Goose dismounted, and stepped forward.
"Killbane!" He yelled.
A laser blast answered him, coming from behind one of the engine pods, Goose dodged as a small chunk of dirt near him exploded.
Zach, Doc and Niko pulled their guns as Goose rapidly scanned the area. "Engine pod; at least four, possibly more around the main body of the transport."
Zach and Doc took aim, while Niko moved to get a clear shot with her carbine. Goose pulled both his guns and moved behind a largish boulder.
"Killbane, this ends here!" Walsh bellowed ino the growing darkness.
"How nice to hear your voice, Commander. Too bad you won't survive to give another order." Came the mocking reply.
"You have no claim on the supertroopers, Riker!" Walsh yelled.
"I am a Supertrooper, Commander! Unlike you and the runt! They are my people, my kind - I decide what happens. I am the strongest!"
"Get knotted, Killbane." Came another very deep and powerful voice. Both sides turned to look at the transport. The door had opened and the other Supertroopers were all calmly walking into the twilight.
"Doc looked at Niko "Get knotted?" She raised an eyebrow and shrugged in response.
"Killbane, we already told you to get off this planet - now it looks like we're going to have to make you." Scarab said, stepping into the circle of light cast by the open transport door.
They all heard Killbane's deep laugh. "You still forgot all the rules of the game, Scarab." A single shot from Killbane's blaster struck Scarab, lifting him off the ground and throwing him back into the growing crowd of Supertroopers.
Johnny Red ignited, throwing the entire area into brightnes as he lifted into the air, glowing with an incandescent glow. He pointed, and a bolt of plasma energy leapt from his outstretched hand to explode behind Killbane, throwing the mutant Supertrooper over the engine pod, into the foreground.
"He's mine." Growled Scarab, getting up and shaking off the effects of the blast.
Goose stood up. "Scarab, back off."
"Gooseman? Shane Gooseman?" The wiry trooper was incredulous. "You survived!"
"Not for much longer." Killbane growled.
"Shut yer trap, Killbane." Scarab snarled. Back at Wolf Den he'd been a close associate of Gooseman's. He admired the way Gooseman's powers had worked, and Gooseman had always liked the way Scarab could maneuver the way he was able to. The two had been close, before the incident.
"Scarab, you always liked the runt." Killbane said, ignoring the small Trooper's growing anger. "How'd you like to see me finally wipe the floor with him?"
"He told you to shut it, Killbane." Johnny Red said, his hand glowing with a new plasma build-up.
"Or what, Red? You can't hurt me again, you hit me once, and now you know I'll defend against it, stupid!"
"Oh, I wouldn't hit you, Killbane. I'll just turn the ground you're standing on to lava. You might be able to directly stop my plasma fire, but I don't think even your bio-defenses can stop molten rock!"
Walsh stood up. "Stop this senseless bickering!"
"Walsh, we aren't listening to you, either!" Scarab yelled.
"Maybe not to him, but you will listen to me." Darkstar said, walking down the ridge to face the other supertroopers, she triggered her energy field, and a glowing aura flared into life around her, looking likethe aurora borealis.
"Darkstar..." The voices setled down, even Killbane looked a bit awestruck and quietened.
"We can't live like this, always fighting. It's what they wanted, not what we want."
"It's all we know." Scarab said.
Darkstar shook her head. "No, it isn't. You are human - and humans have something within them that makes them different from the dogs and bears that have to fight to survive. We can reason, and we can learn."
"What's your point, Darkstar?" Killbane grumbled.
"We don't need you, Killbane, or BETA. We can survive on our own, and make our own decisions. I believe I speak for al of the supertroopers when I say we will follow nobody again, except ourselves. Go blow your own horn, Killbane, we don't play in your band any longer."
Killbane growled, and suddenly leapt at Darkstar, rage and anger clouding his vision. Gooseman saw the tension, and made his own move, leaping to intercept the huge trooper before he could connect.
The two became embroiled in combat, punches and blows landing, but neither feeling them, until Goose was thrown bodily into the shattered metal of the engine pod. He cried in pain as a shard pierced him, and tapped his badge. A surge of energy swirled through him, healing the wound, and turning him into a metallic form. He smashed into Killbane, who withstood the impact, and shifted into a demonic form. He breathed on Goose, spraying a poison cloud into the younger man's face. Goose backed away coughing, and again, was forced to tap his badge. He changed as his biodefenses reacted to the new threat, and made him impervious to the poison gas, but Killbane was already changing again, becoming something with large spikes, and scales.
"They'll kill each other!" Niko cried, rushing forward, but Walsh grabbed her arm, stopping her. "This is between Goose and Killabane, Niko. You'll only get hurt if you try to stop them."
Killbane was thrown into the engine pod, his bulk shearing a section of it off, exposing it's radioactive core, glowing with contained heat and energy. He cried in pain, then adapted, and pulling a chunk of glowing core material, flung it towards Goose.
Gooseman dodged, and tapping his badge once again, picked up the chunk and threw it back. He became leaden, his bio-defenses striving to protect his internal systems from the hellish radiation.
"Guys, His implant's almost depleted." Doc said, watching the combat and his CDU.
"Then I have to end this, now." Zachary said, and aimed his arm while tapping his own badge. The thunderbolt fired, screaming across the distance to slam into the ground beside the two fighters. A huge gout of dirt and frozen ground was blown into the air by the impact, obscuring the fight, and causing a very unexpected result.
A sudden flare brought everyone's attention towards the engine pod, the frozen dirt had landed on the core, and while melting, then turning molten, the exposed radioactive core went critical. As it flared again, it sillouhetted Killbane and Gooseman still locked in battle, then a blinding explosion filled the air, causing everybody to look away.
"Goose!" Niko cried.
Scarab leapt forward, but the intense heat drove him back, Red swooped over, but another explosion sent shards of metal flying upwards, and he came down bleeding profusely from half a dozen puncture wounds.
"Oh my god." Zach muttered, realising that he'd been the cause of the explosion, while Doc checked the CDU - "His signal's fading - the radiation's too strong, Captain. We've got to get him out!"
"Joseph!" Darkstar said, "If I have all the powers of the supertroopers, then I have Shane's Bio-Defenses, don't I?"
"Even Goose's bio-defenses can't stop that sort of radiation, Aurora." Walsh snapped.
"Perhaps not. But Killbane and Shane's combined might be able to. I have to try." She said, and leapt forward, flying with the speed of Red, her body turning insubstantial as it began to adapt to the massive outpouring of radiation and contained plasma heat.
"Aurora, No!" Walsh yelled, but it was too late, she vanished into the smouldering ruins, and seconds later, another explosion rocked the engine pod, sending everyone ducking for cover.
`I will not die, I cannot let you die.' She thought as the radiation and fire sleeted through her. Her bio-defenses had changed her beyond recognition, into something that could not be effectedby the radiation. An insubstantial ghost. She saw the two, both burning with radioactive fire, one holding the other as they both struggled to escape the destruction.
The larger of the two let go and fell backwards, into the blazing inferno and was gone. The smaller, staggered another step and collapsed, the damage too great. Aurora moved towards and into the figure. She knew she couldn't drop her defenses, but she knew that she had to protect what remained of Shane Gooseman and get him out of the radioactive fire. She scanned through the powers available, and settled on the only real option. Focusing all of her remaining energy, she blinked.
The fire burned down to a dull glowing ember. The two groups moved forward, cautious, afraid of what they might see. In the crater, a single body lay, charred beyond recognition, but it's size told them who it must have been. "Killbane - but where's Goose?"
"Goose!" Niko gasped, running forward, but stopping just short of hugging him in public.
"I'm all right, babe." he replied, then turned to face the other supertroopers.
Darkstar shimmered as she took on form and subtance beside him. Once she had solidified, she collapsed, gasping.
Delphi stepped forward. "I seem to be the spokesman for our group, Gooseman."
The other rangers and Commander Walsh walked into the circle of light.
"Commander? Why are you here?" asked one of the other supertroopers.
"Because I heard that you were in trouble, and I decided it was time to help all of you." Walsh replied.
"You put us away." Grimlok said.
Walsh nodded. "I know, and I regretted it. But at the time, it was too dangerous to keep you awake."
Scarab walked over and brutally kicked Killbane's corpse, the body broke into pieces, large chunks burnt to ash by the plasma fire. "He's gone. The universe can rest easy now."
"That is what we want to avoid, Commander." Delphi said, breaking the silence.
The team turned to face the supertroopers once again.
"We want to be alone, Commander Walsh." Knightmare said, stepping forward. "We tired of fighting somebody else's war, dying for other people. Killbane dies for his side - we don't want to die - we want life."
"It's not that easy." Walsh began.
"It is that easy, Commander." Darkstar said, getting back to her feet. "Give us a chance. Leave us here, let us survive outside of the range of influence of the League. Let us Live!"
Delphi stepped forward. "I have been given the ability to see a limited range into the future. Your scientists gave me that power. I see no major threats against Earth in the next twelve months. Give us those twelve months alone."
"And then what?" Zachary asked.
"Then you can come back, and if the need is there, ask us to help." Andromeda replied.
"Yes, ask. ... indeed, ask us, not order, ask..." The other supertroopers nodded and agreed with each other.
"BETA created you to fight for Earth - you don't have the choice!" Walsh growled.
Scarab stepped forward. "Shane Gooseman - you know how fast I can kill you, especially as your defenses are now drained. Why do I not proceed to do this thing?"
"Because you aren't a bloody-minded killer, Scarab. You don't kill for pleasure."
"Exactly. I think, and prefer to pick my targets. Commander, we don't want to fight for anybody else except ourselves. Rest assured, we will fight to protect Earth, but on our own terms."
"What terms?" Walsh growled.
"The right to choose, first off, Commander." Delphi replied calmly.
"We want the right to choose who to fight, and when to fight. You may pick the location, but we pick the targets."
"That's absurd!" Walsh growled, but he knew he had already lost.
"Commander, we have nothing left to lose." Darkstar added.
"Commander Walsh, it's time to let them go. Let them be free." Goose said.
Walsh looked at Goose for a long time, then looked at the Supertroopers.
"You know, aside from all my gruffness, and my tough-as-nails exterior, this is exactly what I've always wanted out of all of you. To work as a team for a common goal."
He looked at each of the Supertroopers, making eye contact with all of them in turn, leaving each with a sense of strength and pride.
"One year." He continued. "Then we'll be back. You all need medical attention or the final dose of genetic enhancer will probably kill you."
"Goodbye, Commander Walsh, we'll talk to you again in a year." Delphi said, and the supertroopers all filed back into the transport, the door sliding shut with a solid thunk, leaving the Rangers and Walsh standing in the light cast by the cybersteeds on the ridge.
"Come on, Commander. We'd better get going soon." Doc said.
Later, as they flew back towards Earth in the cramped confines of the three surviving ships, Zachary interupted the Commander's silent thoughts.
"Commander, what are you going to tell BETA?"
Walsh shook his head. "I'm not sure I'll tell them anything, Zachary. Owen and I have already cooked up a cover story for my absence - and I'm sure you four can come up with a good reason why we lost two ships fighting a Crown Destroyer hell-bent on blowing us out of the sky."
"I'm sure we can think of something, Commander." Doc's voice echoed from the other ship.